Look In The Mirror- Can You See This Fatal Flaw?

PeacockWe were celebrating our client’s triumph in the most hostile takeover in Australian corporate history when its Chief Executive sobered the mood with a warning that has stayed with me ever since. It is a massive ‘watch out’ for businesses and ourselves. Do you suffer from this fatal flaw?

When client Campbell Soup Company launched a takeover bid for Australian biscuit maker Arnotts in 1991, the newspaper headline screamed : ”US Cookie Monster Wants To  Gobble Our Arnotts.”  So began a hugely emotive and aggressively fought takeover war, which ended with Campbell’s gaining control at the last gasp, against all expectations.

The celebration cocktail party was in full swing a few weeks later, all the advisors and client executives in fine form, when Campbell CEO David Johnson (coincidentally- an Australian), gave us this chilling warning during his speech. “Enjoy the moment, “he said, “but be very careful. Because, remember this…..”

“…. Today a peacock, tomorrow a feather duster.”

I’ve heard versions of that saying over the years, but have never forgotten Johnson’s telling – and was reminded this week of it when a colleague shared a great David Ogilvy saying.

“Don’t be so easily happy with yourself.”

Just about the most dangerous trait in business is when someone starts showing ‘hubris.’

Hubris is defined as “extreme pride or arrogance, often indicating a loss of contact with reality and an over-estimation of one’s own competence, capabilities and accomplishments, especially when the person exhibiting it is in a position of power.”

I’ve seen it in big CEOs, in politicians, amongst colleagues, and competitors. Every now and then, I see myself flirting with it. STOP! Look hard in that mirror, often, and when you see a touch of hubris winking back at you, then take action. Get it under control. Fast.

Of course we need to build self-esteem and confidence by rationally and relevantly acknowledging our achievements- what we do well, what we bring, contribute and help grow. But whenever a sense of self-satisfaction starts creeping in, then it’s time to dust off Johnson’s words.

Remember these seven points – please

  1. It takes very little for our position of strength, or what we have today, to be eroded or taken away.
  2. Take nothing for granted.
  3. Keep absolutely focused on what you can contribute next.
  4. We are only as good as our NEXT result.
  5. Remain absolutely paranoid, always.
  6. Never rest on your laurels.
  7. Keep relentlessly dissatisfied with your own performance and contribution.

It’s the approach that has driven the success of the All Blacks (the world’s most successful sporting side ever).

Absolutely, pat yourself on the back when you kick a goal- reinforce that you are valuable, skilled and make a valuable contribution. Then move on- channel all your energies on making your next effort even better.

Today a peacock, tomorrow a feather duster. Keep it with you, always.

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13 Responses to Look In The Mirror- Can You See This Fatal Flaw?

  1. Justin Di Lollo November 13, 2013 at 10:20 am #

    Such wise advice. The same is true in politics, of course where the legendary wit Fred Daly warned of “rooster one day, feather duster the next”. There seems to be more of the latter than the former!

    • Chris Savage November 13, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

      Thanks Justin!

  2. Gerhard Myburgh November 13, 2013 at 10:28 am #

    Great article. Great advice!

    • Chris Savage November 13, 2013 at 3:35 pm #

      Thanks Gerhard!

  3. Lisette November 13, 2013 at 11:21 am #

    Sobering but true, thanks for the reminder Chris. It’s definitely easy to be chuffed by one’s current accomplishments – only to have this sense of pride take over – which means that if you do stuff up, you can fall pretty hard.

    At one point I worked with the Intel team at Ogilvy and it reminds me of what former Intel CEO Andy Grove said (which was taken to heart by a number of the folks there long after he was gone): “Only the paranoid survive.”

    • Chris Savage November 13, 2013 at 3:36 pm #

      Thanks Lisette. Yes I stole that one from Grove!

  4. Jim November 13, 2013 at 1:47 pm #

    I remember a talk by businessman now author Nigel Marsh (Fat, Fired & 40). He talked of how he won 2 out of 5 major advertising industry awards in his London days and partied hard believing his own press.
    Then on Monday Richard Branson rang him and pulled the whole Virgin account . . .

    • Chris Savage November 13, 2013 at 3:36 pm #

      Thanks Jim- great story

  5. Christiane Schull November 13, 2013 at 2:41 pm #

    So true, so wise. Yes, when you stay focused on what you can give – and what you can do and give next, you stay fresh, free, humble, in the flow and really in the game.

  6. Simon Lusty November 13, 2013 at 3:15 pm #

    I love this!

    • Chris Savage November 13, 2013 at 3:37 pm #

      Thanks Simon

  7. Steve Fontanot November 16, 2013 at 2:26 pm #

    Brilliant piece – thanks for sharing.


    • Chris Savage November 18, 2013 at 10:03 am #

      Thanks Steve!

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